By Carter Brundage, B.A. Candidate in International Development, University of British Columbia.
Vancouver is the site of one of the most comprehensive immigration service centres in Canada. Welcome House functions as an all-encompassing support centre for refugees arriving in the Metro Vancouver area. As one of the country’s largest immigration gateways, Welcome House is a much-needed asset for the city, and could serve as a model for the development of similar centres across Canada (a recommendation previously made by Athena Narsingh in this blog).
In addition to housing newcomers, services offered by Welcome House range from a food and clothing allowance, basic language training, and psychiatric care. Welcome House also offers its services in no less than 45 languages. Even more important is a settlement program that helps refugees relocate in an increasingly expensive housing and rental market, primarily to areas populated by newcomers with a similar ethnic background.
Welcome House’s strategy of relocating refugees to ethnically similar communities, along with the immigration of many independent newcomers, has lead to the formation of a number of immigrant diasporas. As newcomers enter the community, more settled community members look to aid settlers with housing and employment issues they’ve previously faced. These networked benefits, along with more broad-based advantages such as easier cultural transitions and reduced language barriers attract potential migrants exponentially as communities grow. These benefits have not only begun to attract potential immigrants, but have also piqued the interest of the Government of Canada.
From a public policy perspective, as Canada becomes increasingly dependent upon immigration to fill population gaps and labour shortages, diasporas help to better integrate newcomers into its economy. If an immigrant can find higher paying, more skill-appropriate employment, or can do so quicker, he or she will contribute more to the Canadian economy. Additionally, if a newcomer can become employed and culturally integrate quicker, he or she is likely to use fewer expensive social services. Diasporas help to facilitate all these processes, resulting in immigrants contributing more to the Canadian economy.
However, even if immigrants use services offered by Welcome House (or similar programs) to smoothly integrate into the Canadian economy and into the diaspora communities which welcome them, they may not be integrating fully into the broader Canadian culture. This is especially true if Canada’s maximum cultural absorption rate, or the rate at which Canada’s broader society can properly integrate new citizens, has been surpassed. As communities like these begin to grow, they are able to accommodate increasingly large numbers of newcomers, and therefore can attract more newcomers. This exponential growth has lead to Canada’s super-diversity, but if such communities are unable to also integrate into broader Canadian society, they are at risk of alienation.
One of Sam Wollenberg’s previous TSAS blog posts argued that marginalization, disenfranchisement and alienation are potential causes of radicalization. As communities fragment further, the growing disconnect between broader Canadian society and other compartmentalized cultures may contribute to an increase in radicalization. Wollenberg has also argued that while refugee populations are rarely associated with terrorist activity, proper cultural integration is still needed to minimize the risk of radicalization. While BC’s Welcome House does provide some psychiatric services for refugees experiencing culture shock and post-conflict trauma, this does not solve a broader issue of migrants settling into compartmentalized and marginalized communities that rarely interact with other Canadian cultures. This situation not only risks radicalization that leads to violent terrorism, but also may influence the prevaence of incidents such as the 2009 Shafia Honour Killings. Many argue as a truly multicultural country, Canada has no broad culture, but does have laws and social norms that immigrants need to be aware of in order to prevent tragedies like these.
Ultimately officials should be wary of the security risks posed by allowing highly-compartmentalized communities to grow in a super-diverse nation such as Canada. However, at the moment it is clear both the government and independent newcomers are actively looking to further expand these communities. While some government programming may provide the proper integration counselling, these programs still contribute to the exponential growth of communities at risk of radicalization. Both the government and immigrants themselves have every right and incentive to promote living in more profitable and amicable communities. However the question remains whether or not the economic benefits of these alienated communities will outweigh their potential security costs.
Photo by JamesZ_Flickr via Flickr.